Two weeks ago, ahead of May’s release of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Courtney — who is now in her third trimester — provided this helpful and hilarious piece on what movies and television didn’t tell us about pregnancy. I have no intention of turning Pajiba into a parenting blog, but with Courtney and TK both expecting newborns in the next six weeks, I thought I would offer them — and other soon-to-be parents — some words of wisdom from a Dad who really doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing half the time, but has still somehow managed to be a parent to one wonderful child for nearly five years without killing him. I also happen to be in the midst of raising newborn twins (also, still alive!), so all of this is marvelously and excruciatingly fresh to me.
So, I offer for new parents these 30 Practical Parenting Tips You Will Never Learn from Movies and Television.
1. They never really discuss in movies the single most terrifying thing about raising a newborn: SIDs. Before you’re a parent, it seems ethereal, but during the first six month of your infant’s life, it’s like this all encompassing obsession. Nobody knows why it happens, but that doesn’t stop doctors from attributing it to about 4,000 different factors, all of which become insanely terrifying. The reason why parents don’t sleep the first six months of a child’s life is because they’re waking up EVERY 15 MINUTES to make sure their baby is still alive because the medical profession has put the fear of God in us. YOUR BABY COULD DIE FOR NO REASON. However, if the baby sleeps on its back, its risk for SIDs is halved for some reason. The rate of SIDs also increase in babies who sleep in their parents’ bed, which is why I think that SIDs is a vast conspiracy perpetuated by the crib industry.
2. What to Expect Books are the worst. Every new parent will have a copy of What to Expect In Your First Year. You may have five copies, because every one will want to buy you one. Why? To scare you to death. Basically, they’re reference books. If your child gets a small rash, you go to the book to find out what it is. The book will say something along the lines of, “Your baby may be teetering on the edge of death. Consult your doctor immediately before it’s too late. If you don’t, your BABY WILL DIE. Or it could just be a small rash, so don’t worry about it. It’s definitely one or the other or something else all together.”
Corollary: If you use the Internet to search for symptoms, Yahoo Answers will invariably show up at the top of the search engine listings. NEVER LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE. THEY ARE CRAZY.
3. There are a lot of doctor’s appointments during the first year. It’s very unglamorous. Your baby will be measured, weighed, and given shots on a near weekly basis. You will spend half your waking hours in doctor’s waiting rooms, surrounded by sick children who could potentially infect your child, leading to ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH according to the What to Expect books.
4. The first time your baby poops, typically in the delivery room, it will be something called meconium, which is comprised of what your baby eats in utero. Meconium is a sticky substance that looks like it belongs in a tar pit. When my first born pooped the first time, it looked like someone blowing a bubble-gum bubble, only it was black and it came out of his ass. Don’t worry. This is normal, but the nurses will get a kick out of your horrified face. All nurses have a macabre sense of humor and they love to make new Dads squirm. Also, if you do something hilariously stupid during the delivery, that story will be relayed to every new patient that nurse have for the next decade.
5. Natural childbirth is beautiful, but it’s not beautiful. Husbands: Be aware that your wife’s pelvis looks like it’s going to break when it opens up like the jaws of death to unleash your baby into the world. It is simultaneously sickening, terrifying, and awesome. You will never have more respect for your wife than after her bones shape shift to make room for a baby’s head. If, on the other hand, your wife is having a C-section, DO NOT LOOK OVER THE BLANKET. Not unless you want to see what your wife’s organs look like.
6. To you, your newborn baby will look like the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen. Other people may say something along the lines of, “You have a beautiful baby. I always say that, but this time, I really mean it.” He doesn’t really mean it. Until they fill out, newborns look like wrinkly old men, and once they do fill out, they look like Don Zimmer. You won’t recognize this for a few years, not until you look back at pictures of your baby in the days after he or she was born.
7. Make sure the books you read to your child are tolerable, because you will read them 1,000 times each over the course of their first few years. Avoid unfamiliar children’s books or books that you find on the shelves at supermarkets. They are the worst. Also, the books you or your parents grew up with are almost certainly unsuitable now, unless you like the idea that your child will live in perpetual fear of swallowing a fly and dying.
8. Movies and television often depict new parents as sleep deprived, but they don’t really explain why. There’s two primary reasons: 1) You have to feed your baby every two to three hours in the first few weeks, which will mean waking up several times throughout the night. By the time you feed your baby, change its diaper, and burp it, and clean up the mess, it will be time to wake up again and begin the cycle anew, and 2) See #1: SIDs: Anxiety will keep you awake. If your baby falls asleep, that’s when the anxiety is at its highest. She’s not making sounds. Therefore, she may be dead. So, you have to get up and tussle her around to make sure she’s OK, and then she will wake up and you’ll spend 15 minutes trying to get her back down, all because you were afraid she wasn’t breathing. Husbands: If your wife wakes up, YOU WAKE UP. Don’t be a dipshit. Misery loves company. A happy marriage is a marriage in which both spouses are equally sleep-deprived.
9. It doesn’t matter how much you love your significant other, or how much he or she loves you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had an argument in your life. You will argue when you have a baby. You are tired. You are thin-skinned. Everything will set you off. You will assign blame to your significant other for everything, because assigning blame absolves you of it. But rest assured, whatever it was, it was your fault.
10. The one time someone actually caught this reality in the media was in the pilot episode of “Up All Night,” and it was perfect: You and your significant other will have arguments about who slept less. You will be under the illusion that, if you can win that argument, you won’t have to be the one to get up and tend to the child at 4 a.m. However, this is a devil’s trap. You will spend more time arguing over who slept less than it will take to actually perform the task. Moreover, if you win the argument and are allowed to sleep 15 minutes more than your significant other, you will pay for it twice over, in the tasks you will have to perform the next day because “you got 15 minutes more sleep than I did.” This is a good time to remind you of #8: Misery loves company. You should both get up, that way no one ever gets the upper hand.
11. Often, movies and television will depict babies pooping on their parents as comic relief. You may think this is exaggerated for comedy. It is not. Last week, a baby projectile spit-up in my face, all over my mouth. Just this morning, a baby sprayed poop all over herself, all over my shirt, and all over the surrounding area. When you remove a diaper, ALWAYS HAVE THE NEXT ONE WAITING. If there’s even a millisecond between the time that you remove a diaper and replace it with another, your baby will know. She will take advantage of that millisecond and squirt poop in every direction, and you will be surprised how far a baby can poop. Whatever the space between the baby and a wall is, that’s how far the baby can poop.
Moreover, I promise you that — on more than one occasion — you will use your hand to catch your child’s vomit, poop, or even snot before it lands on the floor or the couch. It’s much easier to clean up your hand than the couch.
12. Nursing mothers: You’re doing God’s work. Bless you. Try not to stress about it. You may be freaked out that you’re not producing enough breastmilk to keep your baby alive. That stress will cause you to produce less milk, which will cause you to stress out even more, which is an endless cycle that will end in the manual removal of every single hair follicle in your head. Don’t worry about it. Your baby will not die from starvation. IT WILL DIE OF SIDs.
13. Invariably, your child will develop hand, foot and mouth disease. It sounds HORRIBLE, like something that will kill cattle. It’s nothing. The palms of your child’s hand and foot will develop a rash, and you will immediately think STIGMATA. Don’t worry. It’s a common virus. Your kid may feel lousy for a few days, but it’s nothing. Take pictures. Freak out your friends.
14. Your kid will get sick, you will miss work, and you will be that parent that you always criticized for missing work because of a stupid child’s illness. I’m sorry. It’s unavoidable. Unless you have close relatives who don’t work, there will be no one else to take care of your child. Even if it’s a mild fever with no other symptoms, you cannot send that child to school. Or day care. You will have to stay home. If you work from home, you’re double fucked because not only will you saddled with the responsibility, you will almost certainly also have to do your job because society believes that people that work from home don’t actually work and therefore they are free to do EVERYTHING.
15. Colic is a myth, but it will feel great to blame your child’s constant crying on it. It’s a convenient excuse, but the reality is: Babies cry. A lot. When they’re hungry, when they’re gassy, when they’re bored, when they want you to hold them, or because it’s Tuesday and they fucking feel like it, OK. It’s just easier to tell other people it’s colic because you don’t really fucking know what’s wrong with the child.
16. Dr. Sears? Good luck. Follow his advice at your own risk, understanding that attachment parenting is a wonderful, beautiful, glorious thing, until that moment you need five minutes to yourself but you can’t have it because your child is attached to you at the hip. Permanently.
17. The Ferber Method? That’s your call, but if you decide to go that route and someone judges you for it, tell them to fuck right off. If you decide not to go that route, you will have to wake up every half hour to put your baby back to bed.
18. Cloth diapers? Good luck. It’s great. It’s noble. It’s better for the environment. But when you’re exhausted, sleep-deprived, and your house has fallen into shambles, the last thing you may want to do is wash another load of shitty diapers. It’s hard enough keeping up with the laundry when your baby only has three outfits because she grows through an outfit every two weeks, and she soils all three of those outfits every single day. Diaper services are great, but do you really want to invite someone into your home when there are 200 shitty diapers piled in a corner hamper and you have poop in your hair?
19. Stay-at-home mom? Good for you, if someone judges you, tell them to fuck off. Working mom? Good for you, if someone judges you, tell them to fuck off. Stay-at-home dad? Good for you, if someone judges you, tell them to fuck off. Whatever path you choose, never let yourself feel guilty for it. Are you a good person? Then your baby is going to be just fine.
20. Related: Statistically speaking, your baby’s success in life is out of your control. Behavior economics shows the same thing consistently: What kind of parent you are is not as important as who you are in predicting a child’s socio-economic success. There are exceptions, of course, but overall, if you are affluent, your child will be affluent. If you went to college, your child will go to college. If you have a well-paying job, so will your child.
21. Corollary: While how you parent isn’t as important as who you are in a child’s successful outcome, what kind of person is important to what kind of person your child will be. If you are a good tipper, your child will be a good tipper. If you are an asshole, your child will be an asshole.
22. It’s never too early to line up childcare. If you plan on putting your child in daycare, put yourself on a waiting list the day you find out you are pregnant. If you plan to put your child in preschool, sign up the week your child is born. The best preschools fill up quickly and then you’ll be stuck with that lady who has a playroom set up in her basement with a television from 1979 that’s always tuned to Judge Judy.
23. Your child may love rice or spaghetti. That’s great! But it’s messy: Only half of it ever gets into your child’s mouth. The other half winds up on the floor. Wait until it dries to try and clean it up. It’s much easier.
24. Wait until your child goes to bed to pick up all the toys. If you try to pick up throughout the day, you’ll spend the entire day cleaning up. It will make you a very unhappy person.
25. You may subscribe to the theory that television is awful for your child. You may decide not to let your child ever watch television. Good for you! But all the best intentions in the world may collapse at the prospect of an extra hour of sleep while your child watches “Sesame Street.” However, “Calliou” is Satan reincarnated as a whiny, bald Canadian brat. Avoid this show with your life.
26. Children have a very literal sense of humor. Not only do they not understand irony, they may not understand the art of telling a joke. They may assign the same punchline to every joke. For instance, if you tell this joke — “Knock knock?” “Who’s there?” “Lettuce?” “Lettuce who”? “Let us in, it’s cold out here! — your child may end every single knock knock joke for the next six months with “Let us in, it’s cold out here!” even if it is completely nonsensical. Play along. It’s adorable.
27. Taking a baby or toddler onto a plane means giving up every shred of your dignity. It means becoming that person you’ve always hated. It may be the most miserable day of your existence. But if it means getting your child to Florida where you mother will look after him for a few hours while you enjoy a quiet meal at the only restaurant in town, Applebees, then fuck ‘em. You won’t ever see the people on that plane again. Their misery is inconsequential in the face of the prospect of free childcare and a shitty piece of meat layered in gravy and cheese. This rule does not, however, apply to movie theaters. Don’t be a douche.
28. Speaking of movies: Different parents have different ideas about when is a good time to take their kid to the theater for the first time. Whenever you decide to do it, I suggest a Saturday afternoon matinee for kids’ films: There are a ton of kids and they’re all rowdy, so it hardly matters if your child is, too. However, keep a few things in mind: Movie theaters are dark. This may not mean anything to you, but young children may not want to sit in a dark room for an hour and a half, especially if they’re afraid of the dark. I also suggest arriving after the commercials and previews, not because the commercials are harmful to your child, but because if your kid has only ever been exposed to PBS programming, that Pepsi commercial where Drake takes a refreshing sip of Pepsi, turns into ice, and shatters may freak the shit out of your kid. “Daddy, why did that guy just explode? Will I explode if I drink that?”
29. Don’t feel obligated to sign your child up for everything, particularly if enrolling your child in a certain activity makes life more difficult for you. If you’re miserable transporting your kid around the city and watching them flop around on the floor in a tutu, that misery will be reflected in your child. If your kid doesn’t want to do piano lessons, don’t make the kid do piano lessons. If he bawls every time you take him to soccer practice, take him out of soccer. A happy parent means a happy child, and vice versa.
30. Don’t listen to anyone. Other parents will dispense advice like candy (see: This post). Fuck ‘em. You’ll figure it out on your own. Somehow, we all do. Read the books, don’t read the books. Follow whatever parenting method you’d like, or no parenting method at all. Do whatever it takes to work. There’s a study that will validate everything you do, and another study to tell you what you’re doing is wrong. Just fucking love the kid like you’ve never loved anything, and everything will turn out well.